I have been banging on against ageism in general and age discrimination in the workplace for nearly 15 years on this blog without making even a minor dent. But neither has anyone else, even people with a much longer reach than I have.
So instead of living in a culture that accepts and welcomes elders into the the mainstream depending on their capabilities (like people of every younger age), old people (age 50 and even 40 in many cases) are dismissed, hidden, ignored and at best, patronized.
How wrong this is came to mind a couple of days ago when I read a story on the AARP website titled, Over 40? 7 Things Never To Say in a Job Interview.
You can probably guess they are all related to not revealing your age – as if the 20- to 30-something job interviewer can't tell that you look like their parent or grandparent. Some of the seven things you're not supposed to say, according to AARP:
“I’m ready for a change.”
“'It gives the impression that he was bored,” says an expert, that “'his experience was growing stale, and he was unmotivated. Otherwise, why would he stay in his field so long?'”
Really? I loved the field(s) I worked in and still had half a dozen jobs over 45 years I wanted out of for other reasons. This may not be the most politic thing to say in an interview but the objection to it itself is uninformed and stupid.
“I've got 25 years of experience.”
“What the interviewer hears is 'I'm so bogged down in what I believe I already know that I'll be difficult to work with,'” says Rosemary Hook, a recruiter in Austin, Texas. “You paint yourself as unfriendly to learning new things.”
Huh? Is the interviewer listening? What employer in his right mind wouldn't want someone with years of experience, who has solved expected and unexpected problems as they came up over the long term and learned on the job from dozens of people he or she has worked with.
Old people are hated so much in our culture that their experience and knowledge have been turned into a disadvantage.
“I see myself staying in this job until I retire.”
“While you might think such a statement demonstrates your commitment, avoid putting the r-word in their heads,” says another expert. “Employers rightfully want applicants with plenty to give, not someone looking to coast through the last few years of their career...”
How does “until I retire” translate into “someone looking to coast...”? Who thought that up? They're wrong. Or should be.
“Tell me a little about the benefits.”
“'Think of a job interview like running for the Presidency,'” says Hook. “'You must appear vibrant and healthy, able to bring energy to the job regardless of your gray hair.'”
How does asking about benefits make someone appear less vibrant? If it is apparent toward the end of the interview that you have not been rejected, you have a right to know the benefits – it's part of what any applicant needs to know to make a decision about taking a job.
These are among the many ways employers have of getting away with not hiring 40- and 50-somethings, and certainly not anyone older than that.
Make no mistake: eliminating a candidate for saying “I see myself in this job until I retire” is wrong but it is a fact of job search life if you're older than 35 or so.
And that is the dilemma: having a meaningful conversation about the job and what you could bring to it versus the grim reality of finding a job after a certain age, as reported in this AARP story, by demeaning oneself with carefully worded answers designed to offend no one and reveal nothing.
It shouldn't be like this. Old people should not be required to tie themselves in verbal knots to keep from appearing as old as they are. It's not like the interviewer cannot estimate a person's age by just looking.
As a long-time, close observer of the media and culture at large, it appears to me that the only people allowed to work in old age at what they are experienced and good at are rich white males who own the company: George Soros, Rupert Murdoch, Warren Buffet come to mind - all currently in their mid-80s.
But not thee or me. I was forced out the workplace at age 63, years before I was eligible for full Social Security and more personally important, when I had a lot of knowledge and experience I was still eager to use.
And here's the most disheartening part. It's not going to change in the lifetimes of most of us who hang out at this blog. Which doesn't mean we shouldn't continue making noise about it.